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Rights and responsibilities

Our times of global uncertainty and crisis require what I believe is a careful distinction between our rights and responsibilities. What triggered this was a social media participant who ranted and raved about social distancing. She moaned about the fact that the closure of so many entities and the requirement to self-monitor violated her civil rights. It’s a shame that she has nothing better to do.

Here’s a simple example of the difference between right and responsibility: Let’s say for this example that I have tested positive for COVID-19 although I am not demonstrating any symptoms. Inadvertently, I have run out of milk (although I have plenty of toilet paper). Do I have the right to visit my local supermarket to get my milk, taking the chance of infecting who knows how many people?

Obviously, I don’t. But my civil rights to visit any store I choose at any time is not the subject at hand. While I do have this right, I do have the responsibility not to be in proximity of those who could contract my virus. And what if I don’t have the virus and don’t show any symptoms? That only barely impacts the answers.

While I still need the milk in this case, I also don’t know with certainty whether or not I have the capacity to infect someone else. The answer is that I will visit my supermarket, wash my hands before and after my visit, sneeze into a tissue or my shoulder and keep at least six feet between me and everyone else.

The situation in which we find ourselves changes all definitions of rights and responsibilities. By all means, I have the right to preserve my civil rights in most cases. But my responsibility to protect the people around me (generally six feet away from me) prevails.

No-one wants the situation in which we find ourselves. Being good-natured, rational and socially conscious is the answer. When all of this settles, the irate female can go where and when she chooses, with my sincere blessings. Shalom.

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To be brave

On previous occasions, I have referenced a powerful and brilliant book that I have just finished. This is The Librarian of Auschwitz, and it has taught me more than I can possibly summarize in a short blog.

One of the most provocative and inspirational concepts I have derived concerns bravery, a strength that many of us seek to acquire during these challenging and frightening times. The idea, paraphrased, is that those people who are truly brave are the ones who are most afraid. For clarification, if we are not afraid of our various outcomes, the decisions we make are unimportant because any one of them is acceptable. This is tantamount to apathy, a disease worse than the one we fight.

Today, for the sake of those closest to us and ourselves, we must have sufficient fear of contagion to take all of the right steps to prevent it. If washing our hands two or three times a day is a good idea, five or six is a better one. On a recent trip to the supermarket, I saw an older lady wearing both surgical gloves and a mask. Given her increased risks due to age, I’m thinking that it was an intelligent decision.

We all have occasions to convert our healthy dose of fear into responsible action. When six feet is the required distancing space, it must delete hair styling, manicures and other activities that include close proximity. An excellent alternative to protect that professional’s income is to purchase a gift card or certificate.

More can be done with regard to the employment crises that surround us. A significant number of local restaurants are offering curbside or delivery service of selections from their menus. In addition to paying that restaurant’s bills, many have chosen to pay their servers with some of the proceeds, taking some of the sting out of their lost gratuities. If you are at all like me, cooking every meal is tedious and by electing to go meals, we are doing good for everyone involved.

And some of my favorite news stories are those of small groups of residents joining together to provide meals or groceries to those within that group who are in need of support. Today, I surveyed my neighborhood to see if any around me needed groceries that I could collect for them on my trip. The next time I leave to shop, I will make it a point to see if others have needs.

It’s easy to convert fear into action. From my standpoint, not to act is to invite a horrible disease to appear and end life – a conclusion that is absolutely undesirable. Shalom.

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Working as a community

At this moment, the world is in the grip of one of the most terrifying, life-changing events in our history – that of the Coronavirus. Large or small, young or old, we are all aware of its power and potential, for as much as any of us can anticipate how it will play out.

My school district and many others are now closed, at least for the next three weeks. Our children are receiving data from any and all possible sources, some reliable and some quite a bit less than trustworthy. As adults, we have an explicit and imposing responsibility to be judicious about what we are saying and to whom.

The neighborhood in which we live has one of those fashionable forums where various residents make comments or inquiries about subjects that are pertinent both locally and beyond. One of the presumably well-intentioned neighbors has just released her second tirade about how stupid we are to go shopping, eat in restaurants and horde our toilet paper. This is all at the expense, she says, of being able to intercept and prevent our contracting the virus.

While I find her remarks personally distasteful and entirely inappropriate, they are also extremely dangerous. Neither she nor many others have a substantial amount of truth available on the Coronavirus. We don’t know how it happened, how to protect ourselves from it and for how long we will need to be vulnerable to it. With all that in mind, why start browbeating your neighbors who are already under sufficient stress?

In other words, let’s be kind and supportive of our friends, family members and neighbors. Let’s avoid rumor and conjecture. We must also avoid dispensing advice, particularly when you are probably no better informed than most of us and have no authority to dictate behavior.

Stand by your neighbor and offer support whenever possible. Stop the pontificating and preaching. We are all concerned about our world and must work on protection and preparation, not insinuation and lecture. Our kids are listening. Shalom.

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Jeans

Looking around in a restaurant, I recently speculated on the eternal and ubiquitous presence of jeans. While we can call them a number of ways, they are the one fashion item that is always visible, regardless of the social context or demographic.

What is it about jeans that make them the acceptable or preferred clothing for everyone? We see them in restaurants, theatres, movies, schools, workplaces and everything in between. They are in cities and farms, small towns and large cities and on the bodies of the whole range of incomes, from rich to poor.

It was reported recently that jeans have been replaced in elementary schools by leisure or active wear. While I see these, especially where jeans are prohibited every day except Friday, they never seem to achieve the popularity of their predecessors.

In terms of history, jeans have been around since 1873 and were invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss. The name was derived from the city of Genoa, Italy, where jean was first produced. But what is it about our jeans (blue jeans, dungarees, overalls, jeggings, etc.) that makes them so universally accepted?

They are less expensive than most pant products, unless you opt for the high-end very glitzy versions. Jeans are comfortable, durable, versatile and can be worn in virtually any setting by dressing them up and down. We see them being worn by seniors, Baby Boomers, millennials, children, toddlers and babies. Other than underclothing (sometimes optional????), this is the only item of clothing that has been consistently popular.

My feeling is that we all feel comfortable and acceptable in our favorite pair of jeans. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I was not allowed to have jeans while living at home and the first thing I did when arriving at my college venue was journey to the local Army/Navy surplus store. In those days, it was imperative that jeans were tight-fitting and I remember lying on the store floor in order to zip the chosen item. That process has since been deleted.

We’ve progressed quite a bit since those days but I still pick my well-worn jeans for weekends and after school. There is no need to question that tradition, especially because I think it’s a venerable one. Shalom.

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Joy

Listening to holiday music, it occurs to me that not everyone finds this a time to celebrate. There are many reasons why this isn’t a happy season for some. It may be the first year without a loved one. Or it may be that circumstances separate people from those who mean the most. But having witnessed a large quantity of kind gestures, it seems that the best way to create a happy time is to give of yourself.

Maybe it’s a little late to volunteer somewhere such as a soup kitchen or shelter, but it’s a good thought to try. Most of the collections for children’s toys and coats have been completed but I suspect that some of them are still nearby. And there is always the simple reality of delivering kindness to your fellow man and woman.

Yesterday, I witnessed a couple paying for a senior citizen’s purchases. He was ahead of them in line and was wearing a World War II veterans cap so we know he must have been in his 90s. The gentleman silently paid for the bill, enabling the veteran to deliver a wide, grateful smile. Because I was there to see it all, I thanked the gentleman for his service and received another big smile.

Let someone into your lane on the road. Allow someone to go ahead of you in a shopping line. Deliver cookies to your neighbors. If you haven’t greeted your friends old and new with a holiday greeting, send an e-card or holiday email. If you see someone eating alone in a restaurant, invite him or her to join you. While you’re at it, make certain that you remember your server with something extra because he or she is required to work on this holiday.

For every interaction that you experience with a neighbor or stranger, there is an opportunity to improve that person’s holiday. As someone who is immensely grateful for my happy life and beautiful family, I always do what I can to honor and appreciate others. Maybe you can do the same. Shalom.

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Little things

There is something unique to the experience of traveling that elicits the best (and occasionally the worst) in people. Having recently completed three relatively short journeys, I had occasion to witness considerable travel behavior.

Somehow, the process of traveling provides the anonymity necessary to say or do whatever you like without fear of offending or injuring anyone who matters to you. This includes banging into others with your giant backpack, finding it acceptable to board whenever you like and spreading out across three seats in a crowded gate area.

On the upside, I also experienced numerous acts of pure kindness. Two service employees graciously assisted in relocating my suitcase with a sincere eagerness to help. And a complete stranger offered to lift my bag from the baggage claim carousel after noticing my anxiety associated with claiming it.

While airline, airport and car rental personnel are charged with the task of assisting travelers, the methods by which that care is delivered can vary significantly. Happily, most of the service I received was courteous and freely dispatched.

In spite of or maybe because of the fact that you will never again see the people you encounter, I make it a priority to be a helpful, personable colleague. This involves smiling at most people, quickly offering information when asked and liberally offering a seat when I believe that one is needed. Travel is often stressful and it seems only fair to make a small contribution toward mitigating that stress.

My best guess is that none of what I do will be remembered for more than a minute or two after the event, a reality that doesn’t bother me at all. We all have the occasion to make minute enhancements to the lives of the people around us. If we choose to be nay-sayers or curmudgeons, we lose as much as the people whose days we could have brightened. Shalom.

 

If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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Memories

One of the worst realities of aging is what that process does to your memory. Somewhere I remember reading that there’s a part of the brain that is affected by age, resulting in memory loss. My experience suggests that this condition is irregular, unpredictable and beyond frustrating.

It’s not a lightning bolt realization that I am getting older.  As I point out to people who incessantly complain about aging, it’s much preferable to the alternative of not aging. Here’s the problem. While it’s difficult wanting to recall something, important or otherwise, what makes it worse is when those around us exacerbate the problem by prefacing the process with, “Don’t you remember?”.

If I could remember something, I definitely would. Part of what consoles and replenishes us is the ability to recall and celebrate the bright spots in our pasts. Usually, the births, graduations, weddings, anniversaries and other festivities are more easily recovered than the less significant events. Many of the rest of our recollections require a struggle. Sometimes we recall after a while but occasionally, it’s fruitless.

Of course, memory loss is not specific to the process of getting older. Some diseases result in multiple compromised processes, including memory. Having a loved one in advanced stages of dementia, I am certain that she will never know me again, a reality that is beyond tragic for me.

My recommendation is that you spend time with an older member of our society, it’s much more useful to say, “Do you remember?” than “Don’t you remember?”. It sounds minor but it’s much kinder. In addition to having trouble with memories, that person may also have the reminders of aching joints, a variety of ouches and discomforts and a general sense of inability to complete many tasks.

Love and kindness always work, with young or not so young. Baby Boomers are no longer the majority population, but we have many of them to thank for the many achievements for which they were and are responsible. Shalom.

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Come on in

It was about 6:30 am and we heard a persistent tap, tap, tap, tap on the bedroom window. No electronic devices could have issued that type of noise. The coffee wasn’t yet made, and the sun had just risen and was shining through one of our cabin windows.

We finally spotted a rather small bird with dark yellow feathers who was relentlessly trying to enter the cabin, discover food or simply make his presence known. What a remarkable and refreshing wake-up! If we hadn’t yet appreciated the joys of waking in a forest full of critters and birds of brilliant plumage, this alert was the best punctuation of all. Bird continued his concert, eventually leaving for another landing spot.

As I thought about what was truly important about our natural surroundings, I pondered how much time we spend in pursuit of less gratifying pursuits. Our social sophistication with its high speeds and gigabytes is ultimately less real, genuine and magnificent than the world that doesn’t include electricity.

Driving through the rural world that we encountered, we were amused and exhilarated by local venues dubbed Snappy Mart and Uncle Woody’s Flea Market. Ahead of us was the Dragonfly Trailhead, towns called Socorro and Deming and a world of history.

Thankfully, we are close to this non-technical, slow-paced civilization that has much to teach us about what matters. Every restaurant we visited had patrons greeted by, “How’re y’all doing?” and we were immediately persuaded that the locals regularly visited this diner or saloon. That didn’t matter to those of us who were visiting. We were greeted and warmly received by every server we encountered.

We can’t reverse the metropolitan clocks to the days of Monday night bingo and rummage sales. Visiting will have to suffice and at least one of me will be grateful for a life that is full of pecking birds instead of horn-honking rush hour commuters. Shalom.

 

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Good taste

It was breakfast at a familiar restaurant where we have enjoyed numerous meals. We were seated in a somewhat reserved area and prepared to enjoy a meal. Not long thereafter, a man was seated just behind me and he was joined by a younger man a few minutes later.

None of this was exceptional until the third young man arrived. This was the trigger for man number one to launch a diatribe that lasted throughout our meal.

He spoke in a loud voice (there was no other indication that he was hard of hearing) and went on an on and on pointing out everything that he could identify that was wrong with someone who apparently was one of his staff.

The recollection of a manager in my past undoubtedly occurred to me. But beyond that, this very unpleasant human was totally unrestricted in his castigation of the younger man. He (the employee) was accused of being an alcoholic, was told that he was sloppy in his appearance, was unsuccessful in hiring and training staff and had violated a confidence by discussing company business with an uninvolved third party.

Why did I hear all this? Unquestionably, I had no choice in the matter. Our conversation was nearly impossible due to the booming boor voice in the rear. Among other reactions, I felt very bad for the man who was listening to all of this criticism.

Several things are wrong here. For one, lower your voice so that the entire room doesn’t need to listen to your insults. Another reality is that he had not one pleasant thing to say to the man next to him. I believe in you; you’re going to be successful; you have great potential; let’s see what we can do to focus on your many strengths and the difficulties you’re having will vanish.

While I’m not involved in any of this except by proximity, I was required to listen to it. It occurred to me thereafter that had my dad been present, he might well have said, “Hey look, creep. Why not take your nastiness someplace where I don’t have to listen to it.” Dad was pretty direct.

Of course, I didn’t say anything at all. But we all have something to learn about not airing grievances where anyone and everyone can hear. The recipient of his abuse certainly deserved some privacy. And I can watch R movies if I want to listen to endless swear words. Give us all a break. Shalom.

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Rabbit, rabbit

Although few people in my life, past or present, are aware of the habit of saying “Rabbit” or “Rabbit, rabbit” as the first words on the first day of a month, I find it a peculiarly satisfying tradition. Maybe I should call it the Rabbit Habit.

If you’re not familiar with the superstition, a check on the Internet will provide numerous references and examples. One of the sites I visited suggested that the trend has become popular with young people and the “Rabbit, rabbit” message appears frequently on social media. My wonderful son and I have used the habit as a friendly competition, and I’m positive that he beats me to issuing the “Rabbit, rabbit” message one the first of every month.

Here’s the data behind the process. It appears that during World War II, British pilots were issuing the words, “Rabbit, rabbit” or “Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” in order to wish themselves and their cohorts the best possible outcomes on the day’s flight or bombing missions. Other sources trace the habit to early 20th century Britain, where children were accustomed to issuing the phrase or word as the first word of a new month, also to ensure good luck. There are also indications that the superstition traces much farther back.

If you’re asking yourself, “Why rabbits?” instead of toads or emus, the fact that bunnies reproduce prolifically is cited as the primary reason. And of course, people have been known to carry a rabbit’s foot for luck instead of the appendage of any other creature.

The idea of wishing yourself and those around you a day or month or year of good luck is indisputably a good one. One source indicated that issuing these words should be teamed with walking backward down the stairs – strictly out of concern for safety, I’m not recommending that addition to the custom.

My suggestion is to embrace the usage, wish good luck for as many people as you reach and perpetuate something intrinsically positive. Maybe it will ultimately displace road rage if we issue the words, “Rabbit, rabbit” to dumb drivers instead of our usual expletives. Shalom.